How to Use a GPS: Tracks and Routes (2023)

As an active member of a Search and Rescue team since 2007, part of our ongoing training is navigation.

Use a Handheld GPS to Get Where You Want to Go and Return to Where You've Been

This is the fourth article in my "How To Use A GPS" series. Here, I'll briefly cover GPS routes and tracks -- what they are, how they're different, and what you can do with them.

GPS brands and models do have some differences in navigation and data entry screens as well as terminology (ie. I have one GPS that uses the term "landmark" instead of "waypoint"), so you'll have to look through your User's Manual and get to know your unit. Still, the concepts below will be the same.

If you have questions, please let me know in the guestbook, so I can improve the series.

How to Use a GPS: Tracks and Routes (1)

GPS Tracks And Routes: What Are They?

And what's the difference?

In How To Use A GPS: Waypoints And Go Tos, we went over traveling from a current position a previously marked waypoint -- a Go To. A Go To is a route.

Basically, a route is determined in advance. On a GPS, it is a direct line between two waypoints. A route does not take topography or obstacles into account. For that reason, it may often be impossible to follow a route exactly. And this is one reason not to continuously stare at your GPS while walking ... so you don't accidentally walk right off a cliff!

Where you actually walk, on the other hand, is a track. So a GPS track is created as you go. Using your navigation screens, you can deviate from the predetermined route as necessary and then later return to it. This is why a route (planned) and a track (actual) will often differ as seen in the image here.

How to Use a GPS: Tracks and Routes (2)

Types Of GPS Routes

As mentioned, a Go To is a route from one point to another, which might be from your current location in the field back to your vehicle or campsite.

Routes may also be multi-leg, meaning they can consist of multiple waypoints, which you may have entered by using coordinates from a map, have previously marked from an earlier trip, or were given by someone else. For example, you may want to create a route from a trailhead to a campsite and then to a favorite fishing spot you found years ago and marked at that time.

Man Overboard -- or MOB -- routes are useful when you want to instantly create and activate a route to the last computed coordinates. MOB waypoints will be created by the GPS and titled something like MOB001, MOB002, etc.

(Video) How-To: Using Routes, Tracks, and Waypoints for Garmin Outdoors GPS

A Backtrack Route starts from the last recorded position in your track history and goes to the starting point using saved "bread crumbs." By following this route, you're retracing your steps.

What You Can Do With GPS Tracks

I'm not referring to the type of GPS tracking used to track cell phones, vehicles or wildlife. Rather, I'm talking about what you can later do with the track created by your handheld unit while you're carrying it around.

For one, a track can be used to BACKtrack. You may have had to significantly deviate from a predetermined route on your way to a location, due to significant topographic or even man-made obstacles. So rather than do a Go To route back to your starting point, you may use the track you created as your return route.

Tracks are often used in Search & Rescue to determine what areas have been searched. When returning to base, we'll often hand our GPS units to our leader, who will download our tracks onto a laptop computer and then display all searchers' tracks to help plan our next moves.

Similarly, by saving your own tracks, you can plan future trips to an area. Or you can share your track information with someone else who might be going there.

You can also upload your tracks to your computer and map them (or map them by hand on a topographic map, if you prefer) and keep "track" of where you've been.

Use Google Earth To Show GPS Tracks And Routes

"Many GPS devices come with software that lets you upload files from your device to your PC, and display the data in interesting ways. But none have the display power of Google Earth. This software, downloadable for free, lets you import directly from select GPS devices, or from data files you've saved using your GPS software."

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(Video) Garmin GPS Basics Tracks and Routes
When I Said It
3 Reasons Why Ice Road Truckers Should Come Back
  • Esri: A Complete GIS and Mapping Software System
    Including a range of ready-to-use, high-quality data for GIS visualization and analysis projects; a complete system for designing and managing solutions through the application of geographic knowledge; and tools which allow you to add mapping to your
  • TNP Terrain Navigator Pro
    Regional collections of USGS topo maps and Software for 2-D and 3-D viewing, customizing, printing, and GPS.
  • AllTopo
    iGage topographic maps, GPS and survey accessories, updates for all topo maps, etc.
  • Garmin BaseCamp
    This free download allows you to plan your next hiking, biking, motorcycling, driving or off-roading trip. You can create routes, waypoints and tracks from your computer and then transfer them to your device. The Track Draw feature lets you trace you

Here's That GPS Navigation Book Again

If you've looked at my previous GPS articles, you've seen this book before. It's the GPS "how-to" text most recommended by our Search & Rescue team's navigation expert.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Deb Kingsbury

TTGReviews on January 27, 2015:

(Video) How to GPS Tracks to turn by turn Directions | How to Use Tracks | GPS Tracks Basic to Advanced Tips

This will be useful for when I go hiking on some of the smaller trails.

dinodanfan on July 20, 2014:

Is there any way to consolidate tracks over many trips? Similar to tracing a map with a pencil each trip, frequent paths would become darker over time, while unvisited trails would remain empty.

saburl on July 15, 2014:

I'm looking for something that can track my path when kayaking through mangroves so I can follow it back to where I started. Is that possible? I'd love to explore some mangroves but am afraid I would get lost.

Deb Kingsbury (author) from Flagstaff, Arizona on May 11, 2014:

@etech67: If you simply want to mark your starting point so you can return to it later, press the "mark" button when standing in that location (at your vehicle) and be sure to save it. If you already have saved other waypoints, be sure to rename your point (ie. "car") so you know which one you need to return to, or write down the number so you don't forget. Later, when you want to return to that point, press "find," then select the waypoint from the list, and then select "go to." Use the compass page to direct you to back to your starting point. Be sure to practice this in a known area (ie. your neighborhood), so you're sure you know how to operate the GPS and do a "go to" before you try it in the backcountry or anywhere you're not familiar with. I would also have another form of navigation with you -- a map and compass -- in case the GPS fails for some reason (ie. runs out of battery).

etech67 on May 11, 2014:

I just bought a gpsmap 62s garmin and can't figure out in simple english what keys to use to create a track when I leave my vehicle and hours later want to return on the same track??? Should be simple enough since that is the main feature of a gps......to find your way back. Can you help?

john-pennifold on April 08, 2014:

When following a 'route', how close to each waypoint does one have to pass before the GPS unit realises that it has been passed? At what stage does it start navigating to the next?

mariacarbonara on May 27, 2013:

(Video) Gaia GPS Guide - Tracking, Navigation, and Route Planning on the App and Computer

Really interesting piece

squidootime on April 14, 2011:

Useful stuff - thanks!

Cheers

anonymous on January 01, 2011:

Great stuff. Another favorite, thumbs up and lensroll from me!

Alisha2010 LM on September 29, 2010:

Wow, learned a lot! Seems like you really enjoy using GPS. Our company is running a contest, winner gets a Garmin Nuvi 1350T. Thought you might be interested, it ends tomorrow, http://wildfireapp.com/website/6/contests/57491.

andreaberrios lm on October 01, 2009:

Very interesting and useful! Thanks. 5*

Trina Sonenberg from Nucla, Colorado on September 29, 2009:

Five Stars from me!

(Video) How to download BDR GPX tracks and upload to your GPS.

FAQs

How do you use GPS routes? ›

Will see all the routes that being created see just scroll up and down until you find the route you

What is the difference between a GPS track and route? ›

A route is a sequence of waypoints, its the plan for your navigation. A track is the recorded path you did actually follow while trying to implement the plan (the route).

What are GPS routes? ›

Routes are pre-defined paths created from a group of location points entered into the GPS receiver in the sequence you desire to navigate them. Location points can be user generated waypoints or points of interest that have been loaded from a map or from a Garmin program.

What do I do with a GPX file? ›

GPX files are used to exchange GPS location data, including maps, routes, and geocaching information, with others. Most commonly, fitness devices and applications, such as Garmin Connect devices, use GPX files to import and export running and biking routes.

What is the first thing to do before creating a route in your GPS? ›

How to create a GPS Route from a Map
  • Find the route. The first step is to analyze the route you are going to take. ...
  • Design the route. ...
  • Convert the points into GPS coordinates. ...
  • Export to GPS file format. ...
  • Preview your route. ...
  • Import route to your mobile phone. ...
  • Import route to a web.
5 Jun 2020

How can I track my driving route? ›

GPS apps that let you know where you've been
  1. My Tracks (Android) Fire up My Tracks on your GPS-enabled Android device and it will silently record your GPS position and elevation. ...
  2. Runkeeper (Android, iOS) ...
  3. Endomondo (Android, iOS, other) ...
  4. Strava (Android, iOS) ...
  5. MyTracks (iOS)
5 Nov 2012

How do you use Garmin tracks? ›

How To Use Garmin Tread - Tracks - YouTube

How do I convert tracks to Garmin route? ›

You can convert a track to a route for future navigation.
  1. From the tracks list, select a track.
  2. Select. > Convert to Route.
  3. Select an existing collection or create a new collection (Creating a Collection).
  4. Select an option: To keep the original track and add the new route to a collection, select Make a Copy.

How do I use Garmin courses? ›

Following a Course on Your Device
  1. From the watch face, select START.
  2. Select an activity.
  3. Hold UP.
  4. Select Navigation > Courses.
  5. Select a course.
  6. Select Do Course. Navigation information appears.
  7. Select START to begin navigation.

Is there an app that will track my route? ›

1. MapMyWalk GPS for iPhone, Android or Windows. MapMyWalk allows you to see the time spent walking, distance, pace, speed, elevation, and calories burned.

What is the difference between a waypoint and route? ›

A Route is a collection of waypoints that represent the way to get somewhere. On a very simple GPS, this can be a straight line from the start point to the finish. For more modern GPS's, it is the path to getting to your destination.

How do you use waypoints? ›

Waypoints can be manually entered by taking coordinates from a map or other reference. Also, waypoints may be entered by marking a point at the current position of the device, or on the map of the device. For information on how your device marks or saves waypoints, review your owner's manual.

Can I open GPX Files in Google Maps? ›

Google Maps uses the KML format for its map data, but they support many formats, including GPX.

What is the difference between GPS and GPX? ›

A GPX file, also known as a GPS Exchange Format file, is simply a text file with geographic information such as waypoints, tracks, and routes saved in it. You can use GPX files to transfer that information between GPS units and computers.

What does GPX stand for? ›

GPX, or GPS Exchange Format, is an XML schema designed as a common GPS data format for software applications. It can be used to describe waypoints, tracks, and routes.

What is the best way to route multiple locations? ›

Add multiple destinations
  1. On your computer, open Google Maps.
  2. Click Directions .
  3. Add a starting point and a destination.
  4. On the left, below the destinations you entered, click Add .
  5. To add a stop, choose another destination. You can add up to 9 stops.
  6. Click on a route to get the directions.

Can you plan a route on GPS? ›

GPS route planning is the process of finding the most efficient route for traveling from a starting point to a single destination or multiple destinations. However, planning routes for multiple stops isn't easy, and using pen and paper or adopting a free route planner cannot guarantee either accuracy or efficiency.

Does Google Maps have a route planner? ›

Google Maps has a route planning capability. You can even plan a route for many locations using Google Maps. It can serve a variety of purposes aside from driving, such as walking and biking.

Can I track my journey on Google Maps? ›

Find your travels

You can find how far you've travelled and the way that you travelled, such as walking, biking, driving or on public transport. Whether Timeline measures distances in miles or kilometres is based on your country or region. On your computer, open Google Maps.

How do I use Google Maps to track? ›

Find someone's location
  1. On your Android phone or tablet, open the Google Maps app​ .
  2. Tap your profile picture or initial. Location sharing.
  3. Tap the profile of the person you want to find. To update the person's location: Tap on a friend's icon More. Refresh.

How can I save my routes while driving? ›

Save a Route to Your Android Homescreen

Next, tap the three-dot menu icon at the top right, then tap “Add route to Home screen.”

How do I use Garmin GPS for the first time? ›

Garmin nuvi 3597LMTHD: Using for the First Time - YouTube

How do I enter waypoints in GPS? ›

Garmin Marine: How to enter a waypoint - YouTube

What is the difference between a route and a track on Garmin BaseCamp? ›

Basically a Route follows a routable roads (as set in the Activity Profile's Route options) and a Track is a line between a series of points. BaseCamp does both but not all GPS units do. A Montana with only Topo maps wouldn't do routing. It would need to have the City Navigator maps installed to do routing.

How do I open a GPX file on my Garmin? ›

There are three locations in Garmin Explore app where the Import GPX File feature can be accessed.
...
Importing GPX Files in the Garmin Explore App
  1. Tap .
  2. Select Import GPX File.
  3. Select a file source.
  4. Select the GPX file.
  5. Select Done.

How do I create a GPX file on my Garmin? ›

Go to BikeHike, choose 'course creator', select 'load route', save route, name route, choose file type (e.g gpx route), 'save as' to preferred file. (a) Connect Garmin to PC Click on the Garmin drive →garminfolder → 'NewFiles'. Drag GPX file →' 'New Files' folder. 'safely remove' your Garmin from your PC.

How do I create a route on my Garmin Gpsmap? ›

Creating a Route
  1. Select Route Planner > Create Route > Select First Point.
  2. Select a category.
  3. Select the first point in the route.
  4. Select Use.
  5. Select Select Next Point to add additional points to the route.
  6. Select QUIT to save the route.

What is a GPX file Garmin? ›

The GPS Exchange (GPX) Format, according to Garmin, "is a light-weight XML data format for the interchange of GPS data (waypoints, routes and tracks) between applications and Web services on the Internet." Since Garmin devices recognize this format, one of the best ways to use your GPX files is by importing them to ...

What is track me on Garmin? ›

Track me is just a "catch all" activity for when you want to record basic activity information (the GPS track, altitude info, etc) without it really affecting your performance stats. It does record your heartrate and calories, but not in any different way than your watch is doing anyways outside of activities.

What are course points Garmin? ›

Course points include every turn in a course in addition to any manually created points added to a course that you have created and downloaded to your device. You may run into this issue if you manually add several points or if the course is extremely long in distance.

Can I track my wife's phone without her knowing? ›

Like we've earlier established, the only way you can track your wife's cell phone without her knowing is through spy apps. Spy apps are software designed with functionalities that enable them to monitor mobile devices.

How do I create a route map? ›

How to Make a Custom Route in Google Maps - YouTube

Which route planner is best? ›

The 11 Best Free Route Planners with Unlimited Stops
  • Google Maps – Best for Simple Routes. ...
  • Maptive – Best for Professionals. ...
  • RouteXL – Best Alternative to Google Maps. ...
  • Waze – Best for Trips. ...
  • Apple Maps – Best for Apple Users. ...
  • MapQuest – Best for Printable Maps. ...
  • TruckRouter – Best for Truck Drivers & Fleets.
28 Apr 2022

What does a waypoint look like? ›

A waypoint is a point of reference that can be used for location and navigation. Waypoints can be the specific latitude and longitude of a location, a well-known building or natural feature. Signs, like this one pointing across the Atlantic Ocean from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, can also be used as waypoints.

What's a waypoint on GPS? ›

What is a waypoint? Simply put, it's the coordinates to a specific location, usually described using one of two coordinate systems: Latitude-longitude or UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator). Conceptually, the terms waypoint and coordinates are interchangeable.

How do I find a waypoint? ›

To navigate to a specific waypoint, first find the full list of waypoints on your GPS. This may be a simple as pressing the "find" button on your GPS if it has one, or otherwise shuffling thru the menu pages until you find an option on a page named "waypoints".

How do I use GPS waypoints on Android? ›

How to Locate Your GPS Coordinates on Android! - YouTube

What is another word for waypoint? ›

What is another word for waypoint?
control pointlandmark
stopping placeroute point
routing point

How do you send a waypoint? ›

How To Share Waypoints | OnX Hunt App Tutorial | Mini Series - YouTube

How do I navigate a route on my Garmin? ›

From the Navigation chart or Fishing chart, select a destination. Select Navigate To > Route To. Select the location of the last turn before the destination. Select Add Turn.

How do I create a route on my Garmin GPS? ›

Creating a Route
  1. Log in to the Garmin Explore website.
  2. Select Map.
  3. Select. above the map itself.
  4. Click the starting point of the route on the map.
  5. A tiny white box indicates a route point and a red dotted line follows.
  6. Click on the map to create additional route points. ...
  7. Click on the last route point when finished. ...
  8. Click.

How do I save a route on my Garmin? ›

Editing and saving your active route
  1. Select Apps > Trip Planner > My Active Route.
  2. Edit your route using any of the trip planner features. The route recalculates each time you make a change.
  3. Select Save to save your route as a trip, which you can navigate again later (optional).

How do I create a route on my Garmin etrex? ›

Creating a Route
  1. Select Route Planner > Create Route > Select First Point.
  2. Select a category.
  3. Select the first point in the route.
  4. Select Use.
  5. Select Select Next Point to add additional points to the route.
  6. Select back to save the route.

Does Garmin do turn by turn navigation? ›

Follow a running or cycling route with easy-to-see turn-by-turn indicators that let you know when the next turn is coming and where you need to go.

What is Garmin navigate? ›

You can use the GPS navigation features on your device to save locations, navigate to locations, and find your way home. Child Topics: Saving Your Location. Navigating to a Saved Location.

What is track me on Garmin? ›

Track me is just a "catch all" activity for when you want to record basic activity information (the GPS track, altitude info, etc) without it really affecting your performance stats. It does record your heartrate and calories, but not in any different way than your watch is doing anyways outside of activities.

How do I create a route on my GPS? ›

How to create a route on your GPS - YouTube

How do I add a route to my GPS? ›

How to Make a Custom Route in Google Maps - YouTube

Can you plan a route on GPS? ›

GPS route planning is the process of finding the most efficient route for traveling from a starting point to a single destination or multiple destinations. However, planning routes for multiple stops isn't easy, and using pen and paper or adopting a free route planner cannot guarantee either accuracy or efficiency.

Where are Garmin routes saved? ›

If a route is active, you can use the trip planner to edit and save your route as a trip. Select Apps > Trip Planner > My Active Route. Edit your route using any of the trip planner features. The route recalculates each time you make a change.

How do I save my track? ›

Export your data to external storage
  1. Open the My Tracks app.
  2. Go to the Main menu.
  3. Touch More -> Export All.
  4. Choose the file format you'd like to export as (KML, GPX, CSV, or TCX)
28 Jan 2016

How do I use trip planner on Garmin? ›

Support: Using the Trip Planner - YouTube

How do I use Garmin GPS for hiking? ›

How-To: Using Routes, Tracks, and Waypoints for Garmin Outdoors GPS

How do I upload a GPX file to my Garmin eTrex? ›

Exporting a route to the eTrex
  1. While viewing any route, click MORE > Export as File.
  2. Then click GPX Track.
  3. If you are a Premium or Basic subscriber, click the option to have the cues exported as a waypoints.
  4. Plug in your eTrex to your computer with a USB cable.
  5. Copy the exported file into the GPX folder on the device.

How do I put maps on my Garmin eTrex 20? ›

Garmin eTrex 20 22X - How To Install & Display Maps - YouTube

Videos

1. Gaia GPS - Create a Route
(Gaia GPS)
2. Lowrance | GPS Trail Basics
(Lowrance)
3. Create and Edit GPX Files | Make Routes To Use With GPS Devices
(TrailMix)
4. Transfer, View & Follow GPX Files On Garmin GPS
(The Riding Obsession)
5. Garmin Striker Tutorial GPS Features (Routes) Class #8
(1Cast 1Fish)
6. How to Create a Route using Gaia GPS
(Clint Ingham)
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